Aric Almirola may have won for the first time in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season on Sunday, but he isn’t officially locked into the playoffs yet.
One of the first things that was said after Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola pulled off a shocking victory in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was that he was going playoff racing for the fourth time in four seasons behind the wheel of the #10 Ford.
The modern playoff system, which was implemented in 2014 and slightly modified in 2017, has long been seen as a “win and in” format, with the one caveat being that a winner must rank inside the top 30 in the point standings in order for that win to count toward securing a playoff berth.
Almirola doesn’t have that issue. He sits in a 23rd place tie, 260 points ahead of 31st place Josh Bilicki of Rick Ware Racing. Only 60 points are on offer in each race, and there are just four races remaining in this year’s 26-race regular season.
However, he still isn’t officially locked in.
The 16 playoff spots go to the regular season champion plus the next 15 drivers who rank highest in wins. The tiebreaker among single-race winners, if needed, is points. Right now, the regular season points leader, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, is winless, and 13 other drivers have been victorious.
So with four races remaining in the regular season, Almirola sits in 14th place in the playoff picture, and it is highly unlikely that he will climb higher since the single-race winner with the next smallest point total, Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell, sits 71 points ahead of him in 19th in the point standings.
As a result, there are scenarios that cannot happen over the next four races if Almirola is to officially lock himself into the four-round, 10-race postseason, assuming he stays behind McDowell in the point standings.
- If Hamlin maintains his lead in the point standings, Almirola cannot afford for there to be three more different winners who rank above himself in the standings (unless one of them is Hamlin; he can then afford up to three).
- If Hamlin does not maintain his lead in the point standings, Almirola cannot in any way afford for there to be four more different winners who rank above himself in the standings, even if one of them is Hamlin.
Almirola can get one step closer to officially locking himself into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in the Go Bowling at The Glen, which is the next race on the schedule. This race is set to be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network from Watkins Glen International beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 8.